TOR.com, December 2016
“The Story of Kao Yu” by Peter S. Beagle
Reviewed by Eric Kimminau
This is my first foray into TOR.com. With a stated aim “to provoke, encourage, and enable interesting and rewarding conversations with and between its readers,” I am looking forward to something new and exciting to end the year.
The opening story, “The Story of Kao Yu” by Peter S. Beagle tells that tale of a Chinese Judge, Kao Yu, an honest and fair judge by all accounts who is occasionally assisted in rulings by a rainbow colored magical Chinese unicorn, a chi-lin, who “while wondrously gentle, will suffer no least dishonesty in its presence, and will instantly gore to death anyone whom it knows to be guilty.” Upon one trip among the villages of his region to perform his judicial duties, he met Lanying, or “Snow Ermine” as she was known. She was a beautiful pickpocket with whom he was immediately entranced. He could not keep her from his thoughts, even after revisiting her and spending an evening with her, only to have her steal the inn keeper’s money box as she departed in the middle of the night. Kao Yu believed it a judgment by the chi-lin that he had not been visited by the magical creature for over a year since his last encounter with Lanying, even though he buried himself in his duties in penance for his self-perceived transgression. Again the time of year for his long journey through the villages came and though Kao Yu gave his best impression of happiness, soon his mood soured as they neared the Snow Ermine’s home. It did not improve as it was left behind and then, in the village of YinChuan, the judge was asked to preside over a murder trial. Almost immediately he is sure that the young female was somehow involved but does his best to remain aloof and impartial. But as he knew would be the case, Lanying was the murderess and, just as assuredly she was guilty. At that moment the chi-lin appeared and Kao Yu begged her to speak the truth now if she never had before. I will tell no more of this legend but it is obvious this story was written with a deep warmth and I truly enjoyed it.
“The Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage” by Alix E. Harrow is about Oona, the bastard daughter of an Irish riverman and an Amerind dock worker who, it was said, was destined to be a mapmaker. After 10 years labor in her chosen profession, it was the end of her time as a mapmaker that begins the rest of her tale. One day Oona was directed west from the banks of the great river. On command from their party’s leader, Mr. Clayton, Oona led the mapping party down a path Oona did not wish to revisit. They were headed directly towards the bone trees, the location of the Amerind burial grounds where bodies were taken and which then are lifted to the sky by the ever growing trees. It had been years since she had last seen her mother’s bones. What follows is a tale of duress, at Oona’s being pressed into longer and longer contractual service while her brother Ira lay imprisoned in a hospital, eventually even being further injured to extend his imprisonment and Oona’s contractual employment. Finally Oona takes a gift from Ira and departs for Western lands, but not before imparting her vengeance upon the mapping party and seeing Mr. Clayton’s fear before her flight to unexplored lands. An engaging story that I am sure will be discussed among friends. Was it historical or fiction? I leave it to readers to decide for themselves.
“The Thing About Growing up in Jokertown” by Carrie Vaughn is a wonderfully different story about a group of teenage jokers, or obvious mutants, who just want a little adventure. Beautifully written, the story engaged me like few have done in a very long time. A growing up story about any group of “just good kids” who also happen to be just a bit more unique than your average adolescent. The heroine, Miranda, or Rikki as she is known among her friends, wants to be normal but never will be and her parents, also jokers, love it that way. Anything I could mention about this story I feel would only decrease the experience and the enjoyment that I would hope other readers should have. I give this two great big thumbs up.
I hope you enjoy this month’s stories from Tor.com as much as I have. I have sincerely enjoyed the stories, some more than others, but each is a gem to be discussed with interest and excitement.
Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional seeking those of like mind and character with whom I may share in wit and wisdom.